If you’ve been following Brief Book Reviews from the beginning, you’ll have read all about my fondness for the highly entertaining Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab.
Vicious, the first (and, so far, only) book in Schwab’s Villains trilogy, is a coming-of-age superhero/villain creation story with a quirky cast of damaged characters.
Though I knew it was unlikely, I wanted to be as taken with Vicious as I was with the Shades of Magic trilogy. The writing was fine. The story had some charm. But, by the end of the book I realized this: I love magic (no surprise there), I don’t love superhero myths.
Crooked Kingdom, follow-up to Six of Crows, is the fast-paced and entertaining second book in Leigh Bardugo’s YA duology featuring teenage criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker and his motley crew of miscreants.
If you haven’t read Six of Crows, I won’t give too much away here about the sequel, only that Bardugo crafts unique, idiosyncratic characters who carry the story from start to finish and engineers fantastic plot twists to keep the reader engaged and guessing until the very end.
And, yes, there’s MAGIC.
I discovered Leigh Bardugo’s YA fantasy Six of Crows on Goodreads (V.E. Schwab, author of the Shades of Magic series, rated it 5 stars), and the cover pops up constantly on bookish Instagram feeds.
It took a few chapters for the plot and the characters to capture my imagination, but once they did I was hooked and stayed up reading 350+ pages, bingeing on Bardugo’s well-crafted fantasy world and her diverse ensemble of outcasts until midnight.
The plot centers on a heist led by a ruthless, cane-wielding criminal mastermind, the 17-year-old orphan Kaz Brekker. Brekker and his motley crew of miscreants voyage to the impenetrable Ice Court, which houses both a palace and a prison, to kidnap the creator of a drug that threatens to wreak havoc on the magical world they inhabit. The team is fueled by a large monetary reward, and the plan is swiftly put into action and summarily complicated by the conflicts that arise within the ranks. A wholly entertaining and delightful read… And I’m looking forward to escaping into the second in the duology, Crooked Kingdom.
About a month ago my husband asked what I like about fantasy books and, in all seriousness, I told him: “I just love magic.” He laughed. Loudly.
If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning of the year, you’ll know that I am new to the genre and am now on the hunt for well-written epic/high historical fantasy books with plenty of, yep, magic… preferably with a great cover treatment, which is surprisingly hard to find in that section of the bookstore.
So after reading about Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, praised by beloved fantasy writers like Ursula Le Guin and Terry Brooks, as well as genre aficionados, I was excited because MAGIC.
The coming-of-age story is a familiar one. A brilliant young boy named Kvothe, raised amid a band of traveling players, escapes death, endures loss, poverty and hunger, attends wizard university, gains some enemies, falls in love. There is conflict, longing, heartbreak, adventure, and some wizardly magic.
It’s a huge 700+ page book that took me 200 hundred pages to get into and a long week to get through. With a heavy edit and a greater focus on world-building it could have been fast-paced and intensely readable. As it was, my interest flagged towards boredom at various points, and I could never fully picture the characters or the world they inhabited.
The dystopian world in Anna Smaill’s The Chimes is set to music. In this indeterminate future London, where the written word is a lost code and metal is a precious commodity, Smaill’s characters walk lento and run presto, they sing directions, recognize strangers by their song, and they attune their ears daily to the Chimes, the beautiful music played across London that erases memories and keeps the inhabitants in line.
The novel follows young Simon, recently arrived in London after the death of his parents, with a bag of objectmemories and a message in the form of a song from his mother to a woman named Netty. As the days pass and the Chimes create gaps in his perception and fog his past, he must find a way to remember his purpose, deliver his message, and retain his memories if he is to survive the stifling by those in charge, a set of Oxford elites known as The Order.
After reading and loving V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series over the last few months, I’ve been on the hunt for entertaining, well-written fantasy, which is why I picked up The Chimes. While I liked the novel, I wished for less musical prose and more world-building; there were sections where I couldn’t envision the scene fully because the musicality of the writing muddled the plot and overshadowed the visual elements of the setting.
The blurb from author Kevin Hearne on the back cover of Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures reads: “I don’t care what else you’ve seen in the bookstore today. Buy this book.”
Wake of Vultures is a thoroughly kick-ass, relentlessly awesome book. It’s the first in the Shadow series featuring one of the most original characters I’ve read, the half black/half “Injun” boyish young girl Nettie Lonesome. Nettie is tough as nails; she swaggers, tames wild ponies, slays vampires and other beasties, and braves the dangers of the old west where nothing is quite what it seems and everything seems like it’s out to get her.
Bowen writes with verve, creating a gritty, fantastical world that is as fierce as it is fun. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in the series: Conspiracy of Ravens.
The Bear and the Nightingale, the debut novel from Katherine Arden, grabbed me from page one.
It reads like a fairy tale, complete with a strong-willed girl, a horrid stepmother, a fear-mongering priest, pagan magic, forest demons and water sprites. This book isn’t for everyone.
But if you read that description and are thinking “sounds freaking awesome,” you will be enchanted. Beautifully written and well-paced, it’s a darkly captivating story set in medieval Russia about a young girl, Vasya, born with the sight. She sees spirits in her house and stables and creepy demons in the snowy woods that surround her village.
When a new priest arrives in the village and turns the community against the old ways, against making offerings to the spirits, the spirits get angry. Crops fail, hunger spreads, and winter lasts longer and longer. Young Vasya is called upon by the spirits and demons to right these wrongs, to do so sacrifices must be made.
This is the first book in what is bound to be a great trilogy; the next will be The Girl in the Tower. Also, a book cover and package can really sell a book or do it harm. I almost didn’t buy this book because of the cover, it reads too dark and too juvenile. I prefer the bright and tapestry-like UK cover (left/top) to the American version (right/bottom). Thoughts?
Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred has long been on my to-read list.
Powerful and terrifying, the story follows Dana, a young black woman in 1970’s Los Angeles, who is “called” back to antebellum Maryland when her white ancestor, Rufus, almost drowns. She saves him and is returned to her own time, to her life as a writer, to the home where she lives with her white husband. Over the course of the novel she is summoned again and again to save this ancestor; she forms complicated relationships with Rufus and his parents who own the plantation, and with their slaves. Even though she saves this young white “master,” Dana herself is treated like a slave, forced into physical labor, threatened and physically abused.
The passages that take place on the plantation are stronger than those set in 1970’s Los Angeles, the characters are more developed, the story both brutal and riveting. Because the narrative is told from the vantage of a free, modern, educated black woman, the horrors of slavery are exposed with a modern lens, the cruelty of the white owners and the powerlessness of the slaves are juxtaposed with Dana’s loving and seemingly equal bi-racial marriage. Overall, a fascinating, fast-paced read.
As I turned page 623 to the last paragraphs of V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, I’ll admit that I got sad in my heart… sad to say goodbye to this wonderful series (this is the third of a trilogy, I wrote about books 1 and 2 here and here) and these great characters, sad to leave this magical world.
As a bookseller I snobbishly ignored the whole fantasy/sci-fi section in favor of literary fiction (hey, I was in my 20’s, I thought fiction was more, I don’t know, important); In the past year I’ve been delving into the fantasy genre more and more. And here’s the thing about fantasy (based on the books I’ve read thus far): They’re FUN. Remember reading for fun? Not for school, or book club, not for what reading a certain book says about you as a reader. For fun, because the book makes you happy.
This series made me happy. Highly entertaining, delightfully transporting, these books are the perfect escape. I don’t know about you, but at the current moment, escaping into a book, into a world woven with magic and mystery, sounds pretty awesome just about all the damn time.